Quality v. Quantity

Some research shows that the amount of time doesn’t really matter, although it does matter a little since if you spend zero hours doing something, you’re not going to get better at all. But it turns out that the number of hours practiced doesn’t really matter, it’s all about the quality of your practice. What you do is important, but not how much you do. Duh, right?

This seems like a no-brainer issue, but researchers are notoriously skeptical about common-sense issues. We want to know for sure whether things are true. That’s one of the reasons behind a study by Duke, Simmons, & Cash (2009), titled It’s not how much; it’s how: Characteristics of practice behavior and retention of performance skills. These researchers had 17 graduate and advanced undergraduate piano players practice a 3-measure excerpt of Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet and String Orchestra (here’s a clip of Shostakovich himself playing part of it). Here’s the excerpt: